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Review: Amazon Fire 7 (2015 release) Case

The following is a review of the Amazon Fire 7" (2015 release) Case - Slim Lightweight Standing Custom Fit Cover for Amazon Fire 7 Inch Tablet, received as part of the Amazon Vine Program.

Not as good a fit, but still nigh perfect

Right around Christmas I was out shopping around for a replacement to my second generation Nexus 7, due to speed and battery issues. Within a couple days I had picked up one of the 2015 models of the Amazon Fire 7.

About a month later I received a Verso Fire 7 2015 Case for it, and while I tried it out, the material of the case, as well as it's hinge and ribbon to keep it closed, were things that I wasn't too happy with.

However, around the same time I had the chance to try out one of Amazon's cases for their Fire HD 8, and I loved it. Since it's effectively the same thing in a smaller package, I'll repeat some of what I said in my review of that here.

The first nice thing about the case is that it leaves all of the buttons free. While a case with button covers doesn't necessarily mean the buttons require more pressure to be used, having them clear is so much easier.

The case also features a pretty powerful magnet, which combined with the case wraps around the device, means that the cover stays in place, but can still be removed with relative ease. It also sticks quite well to the back of the case, which means that it has the same profile open or closed, with no slippage.

Initially I thought the oddest thing about these cases was that the cover folds in half diagonally. Within the box itself is the two ways this fold can be used to stand it up either in portrait or landscape view, but after three plus weeks, I still hadn't gotten used to this, and had to play around with the flap a bit before I got it right.

Now that I've tried the smaller model I'm quite used to it, and it basically feels natural. However, I do have a little trouble keeping my 8's cover in place on some smooth surfaces. At this point I'm not sure if this is because of usage, or if it's because of the texture of the surface I'm setting it on. Time will tell if this is an issue with these cases in general.

Finally, the case feels pretty ridge, but still has some flex to it. It fits fairly snug around the tablet itself, but leaves enough of the device free for it be relatively flat on the top of the tablet itself. With the larger case this initially lead me to believe that it might pop out of the case, but thus far still have had no issues with it. However, with the case for the Fire 7 I have noticed that the Fire will very occasionally pop out a bit. It's relatively minor, but I'm keeping my eye on whether the case is ever so slightly smaller than it should be.

Other than that, much like the Fire HD 8 case, I have to give the Amazon Fire 7" (2015 release) Case - Slim Lightweight Standing Custom Fit Cover for Amazon Fire 7 Inch Tablet a full five of five stars. The case itself is pricey, especially compared with the AmazonBasics line, which I'm most familiar with, but the case quality is high, and works very well.

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Review: Alienware Steam Machine ASM100-4980BLK Desktop Console (Intel Core i5, 8 GB RAM, 1 TB HDD) NVIDIA GeForce GTX GPU

A weird hybrid

First I've got to say I'm not sure how to review the Alienware Steam Machine ASM100-4980BLK. Do I compare it to the consoles, as that's what they're trying to make (especially with SteamOS being the OS on this machine)? Or do I compare it to a Desktop computer, since the games you play are those you'd typically play on a PC? Or is it something new, like tablets were many years ago?

Personally, I've come to think of it as a hybrid between the two, so that's how I'll review it, for better or worse. I'll also be focusing solely on the SteamOS version of this system. Since that's how they sell it, that's how I'm going to review it. If you want to know how it performs with Windows, you'll have to look elsewhere.

First, we compare it to a console. With the processing power being what it is, and the ability to upgrade some components of it, I consider the system to be on-par with a current gen console, which to me means the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

As far as the operating system, I put SteamOS somewhere between the PS4 and Xbone. The PS4 has, what I consider, to be a great interface. Not as good as the PS3's, but good nonetheless. The Xbone's interface is nowhere near as good as the 360's interface was, and isn't even as easy as the Windows 8.1/10 interface it tries to replicate.

SteamOS's interface shares some similarities with the standard desktop interface, but does have a learning curve. This is especially noticeable when you use the Stream controller, as the d-pad must be used to navigate, as opposed to the d-pad or left stick. It baffles me that they'd do this. There's also the issue of being unable to access pieces of the interface you see, such as being able to press up to get into the downloads/settings area, even though you see them, unless you back out far enough. Either don't show components I can't access, or show them differently.

Games are definitely at the center of the SteamOS interface, much like on the PS4 (and not so much on the Xbone), but given the nature of the library being shared between all your PCs, the library, by default, contains all games you own, not just those that you can install and play on the console. The library can be filtered, but as far as I've seen this has to be done every single time. The games you've downloaded do display in a different area, so there's at least that.

Next up we have the controller itself, which the console (noted as 'Console Only' on Amazon) does include. It's, quite frankly, pretty dang cool. It's effectively a reversed Xbox 360/One controller, but with only one actual stick. However, the pads work pretty dang good. However, the button placement, especially of the Start, Back, and bumpers, are still taking me a while to get used to. The face buttons too, mess me up for a little bit, as they're placed in a location contrary to the PS and Xbox controllers.

However, after a couple long sessions, I can honestly say I never noticed the controller in my hand, like I would with the Xbox 360/One, and to a lesser extent, the various PlayStation controllers. I don't know if it's the balance, or the way the grips are bent, or something else, but it just feels good. Heck, it might even be the placement of the face buttons.

I also played one game with the controller mapping to a keyboard (I actually had to create a custom controller mapping for the game), and for the simple tasks I needed to do, it worked quite well.

Now that we've looked at it from the console perspective, how about from a desktop? Since it's running a version of Linux behind the curtain, Windows-only games aren't going to run. However, some have had luck running non-SteamOS games, that would normally run on Linux, on this console. I was tempted to try this out with a couple GOG games, but after reading through the forum posts on it, decided it wasn't worth a try yet (although might be if GOG releases a Linux client for their interface).

Since I wanted to try out the SteamOS, and not purchase a Windows license, about a quarter of the games I own on Steam could run on the Alienware Steam Machine ASM100-4980BLK. This included some high-end games (BioShock Infinite, Pillars of Eternity) and mid-range games (City Skylines), but also a lot of lower end, or indie, games. Sadly, for me this meant that while I tried to go SteamOS-only, I ended up back on my main machine more than I would have liked.

The biggest problem is probably developer support, and having seen it first-hand, I'm not sure what the future of the SteamOS is. If Steam puts a lot of weight behind it, then it might do well. If developers don't keep releasing their games for SteamOS/Linux, then ... at least you can install Windows on the machine.

So compared to a console, it's probably on par, more if you don't expect to be able to play every Steam game on it, and less the smaller the percentage of games in your library that will run on it.

Compared to a typical Windows machine running Steam, it's a lesser experience, assuming SteamOS is left on the machine. The controller is nice, but you could save yourself some money and just purchase the controller by itself. Or just get the standard which is a wired Xbox 360 controller.

The last note to make before my closing is that my machine restarted way more than I would have expected. It seemed to have been increased after installing the beta updates, but even before I was running into random restarts when navigating around the interface. Thankfully the system didn't restart when I was playing any games, but it worries me when I'm just navigating around the interface and the machine just goes black and restarts.

I also had one game which wouldn't download (0 bytes downloaded of 0 bytes). I tried numerous things to debug this, but it seems to strike some users with some games. Download speeds also seemed a little slower than usual, but I attribute this more to the Steam network, as I very rarely get the maximum speeds from even the Windows client.

So all that said ... it's so hard to rate the Alienware Steam Machine ASM100-4980BLK Desktop Console. If you come into it expecting something on par with a Windows gaming PC, you'll be sorely disappointed. But if you come into it as someone wanting to get a taste of what PC gaming is like, and you don't have a big catalog of games, this might not be a bad way to get started. I've yet to find a SteamOS game that doesn't also run on Windows, so you'd be free to upgrade (and upgrade is what it would be) to a real gaming PC down the line.

As someone with a big catalog of games, it's a solid middle of the road for me; 3 of 5 stars. As a console, it's 4 stars. As a gaming PC running SteamOS, it's 3 stars. If this were the Windows version, the latter would probably (considering all else) jump to 4 stars. But would the console aspect suffer? That I don't know.

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Review: ZAGG Slim Cover, Ultra-Slim Bluetooth Tablet Keyboard for Microsoft Surface Pro 3 and 4 (MC3WKK-BB0)

The following is a review of the ZAGG Slim Cover, Ultra-Slim Bluetooth Tablet Keyboard for Microsoft Surface Pro 3 and 4 (MC3WKK-BB0), received as part of the Amazon Vine program.

Actually on par with the official type cover

When I purchased my Surface Pro 4 a number of months ago I opted to spend the extra money to get the official type cover with it. Having used a couple other two-in-one machines, getting used to the keys wasn't too hard.

When I saw the ZAGG Slim Cover up for review I jumped on it, as I wondered if they could do better. Having used it for a couple weeks now, I can honestly say the ZAGG Slim Cover is on par with the official covers, with some things being better, and some not.

First, we have the packaging. It's extremely easy to take this out of the packaging. Slice the tape, slip the bag with it out, and then then connect it to your Surface with Bluetooth. A USB cable to charge the keyboard (it doesn't use the Surface for power) is also included.

The size of the device is about the same thickness as my Surface Pro 4. This is a bit of downside, since the official type cover is really thin. Because of the size and weight it also doesn't necessarily feel like it's going to stay covering the Surface like the official one does. I didn't run into any issues with this, but I put my Surface in an Amazon Basics case when I put it into my bag, so there wasn't too many chances to test this.

The plus side of the depth of the keyboard is that the keys actually feel fairly normal. Not like a desktop keyboard, but closer to a traditional laptop. I also assume that the battery is another reason for the size. The only issue I had with the keys was a broken left arrow/Home key. The top of the key wouldn't stay seated in the device. More on that later.

Like the type cover this keyboard does have backlit keys, however they're either on or off, unlike the type cover's range of brightness. Having used the type cover's variable brightness this is actually a bit of a disappointment. Had the ZAGG keyboard been my first, I probably wouldn't have cared as much.

Next up we have the battery. Surprisingly, I have yet to need to charge the battery on the device, although I did bounce between the two covers for all but the last week and a half. I also tend to use my Surface for some work meetings, and between 10 minutes to a couple hours after work / on the weekend. So, I can't say I've put 40 hours of use into it over the last 3+ weeks, but it's definitely more than a couple days. So while I thought having to charge the device would be an issue, it actually seems pretty efficient.

Next up we have how it connects to the Surface. This is actually the biggest downside, as if you connect it like you would the official type cover you'll find that the taskbar is covered up slightly. At first this actually bothered me, but then I started disconnecting the keyboard from the Surface, and/or keeping it flat. The portability, especially when I was in bed at night, is something I'd miss if I had to go back to just my type cover.

Because it's Bluetooth, this also means it can be used with other devices, with the ability to pair and bounce between two. I didn't test this too much, but it worked as expected.

Finally, a few minor points. I rarely used the trackpad on the device. Clicking felt odd to me, but that's probably more because of how little I use it (I've used an external mouse since I got my Surface, and wouldn't switch back). For the very occasional mouse usage it worked fine.

What is still taking a while for me to get used to is the function keys. F1-F12 serve two purposes, with the default being the special functions. For example, F1 pairs with Bluetooth device 1, F2 with device 2, F5 pulls up settings, and F12 turns up the volume. As a web developer I use F5 and F12 a lot. And I keep screwing up and neglect to push the Fn key when I use these! F2 is another I mess up, but seemingly everytime I try to use it to rename a file. However, given that I rarely do this, it's mostly muscle memory to blame. It would have been nice if the default was the function keys, much like how the Delete key acts as the power button if you hold down the Fn key while using it.

I mentioned above that I had a loose key, and used a replacement keyboard. I ended up contacting ZAGG support to see if they could assist me with the Home key issue. I was hoping they might be able to send a replacement key that I could swap in. I emailed in on a Saturday, around 11:30 a.m., stating the issue (leaving out that I was reviewing the product for Amazon), and received a response around four hours later. On Tuesday they had sent out a package with a replacement, which I thought was just going to be a key, but when I got it Friday (3-day shipping) it was a new keyboard.

I did have to contact them because I didn't receive information on shipping the old product back, but (again on a Saturday) I received a response that I'd be getting an email with the necessary UPS shipping label. I still have to go through the rest of that process, and will update this review once the warranty is taken care of completely.

Honestly, I didn't think the ZAGG keyboard was going to be able to match what Microsoft did in the type cover. But while the type cover has some advantages (backlit key variability, size, power via the Surface), the ZAGG keyboard wins out in other cases (portability, keys, ability to use with other devices). Knowing what I know now, I think I might actually recommend that people take a look at the ZAGG Slim Cover, Ultra-Slim Bluetooth Tablet Keyboard for Microsoft Surface Pro 3 and 4 (MC3WKK-BB0) when picking up a Surface Pro 4 (or 3), instead of just going with the Microsoft type cover. For effectively matching the type cover, I give the ZAGG Slim Cover a full five of five stars.

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